Don't Be Facebook Friends with Children

July 15, 2011 by John Oliver

The British Medical Association (BMA) recently released a report titled "Using Social Media: Practical and Ethical Guidance for Doctors and Medical Students." Generally speaking, the audience of CultureOfSafety.com doesn't typically include medical professionals, so you may be wondering why we are sharing this resource with you. Well... this report aligns closely with many of the recommendations we've been making in our Social Media Best Practices Guide and a previous blog post about enforcing unpopular policies, but goes a step further and introduces some compelling new ideas.

Here are some notable excerpts from the report. We've replaced the medical references with terms applicable to community-based and youth-focused organizations.

Control and Accessibility

Although employees often choose to divulge personal information about themselves during face-to-face conversations with children, they are able to control the extent and type of this self-disclosure. The accessibility of content on social media however raises the possibility that children may have unrestricted access to an employee's personal information and this can cause problems within the mentor-child relationship.

Power Imbalance and Exploitation

Relationships between employees and children that are not based around programming can raise a number of significant ethical issues. Because of the power imbalance that can exist in any mentor-child relationship, it is important that a professional boundary exists to maintain trust and protect children from the possibility of exploitation. It is possible, and in small communities, likely, that employees may have friends who are children involved in organizational programming. In these circumstances, employees should be aware of the boundaries that need to be set and be sensitive to the need to maintain a professional relationship.

Personal vs. Professional Life

Professional duties that employees have to children are set out organizational policies; breaches of these standards while using social media, such as improper disclosures of a child's information, represent clear cases of professional misconduct that can call into question the professionalism of an employee. Professionalism however also encompasses a broader, less well-defined set of standards that lie outside the scope of org policies. These principles have evolved over time and, while not legally binding, they represent the standards of conduct broadly expected of professionals that work with children by their peers and society. Although the way employees use social media in their private lives is a matter for their own personal judgement, employees should consider whether the content they upload onto the internet could compromise public confidence in the organization and the safety of children.

Read: Social Media Best Practices for Nonprofit Organizations

What do you think? Do you think people that work with children such as summer camp counselors, lifeguards, and youth sports coaches have a similar professional responsibility as those in the medical profession? Do you think these people should be allowed to "friend" minors online?

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